4 out of 4 stars
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“Is love enough of a reason to turn your life upside down and leave everything you know behind?”
The 35¢ Dowry by Maryvonne Fent is a beautiful and heartfelt coming-of-age novel. The first book in the Mango Blood Series, the story begins in the 1950s when Minouche, the young protagonist, lives with her mother, baby sister, and alcoholic step-father. When she witnesses her step-father brutalizing her mother, Minouche defends her. Afterward, when the police don’t help, Minouche finally convinces her mother to escape.
Though the after-effects of abuse remain, Minouche and her mother live a humble but generally happy life for the next several years. During this time, Minouche discovers her love of travel. She makes new friends and eventually meets Stefan, a handsome Polish student. There is an instant connection. He is handsome and charming, but beneath the surface is a wounded man searching for spiritual enlightenment. He opens her eyes to new experiences, and he teaches her to trust and love.
However, Stefan is bound for India, and Minouche doesn’t have the means to accompany him. Can she obtain the funds to get to India, and does Stefan want her there? Minouche must decide if her love for Stefan is worth taking the risk.
I love Minouche’s dynamic character. She is smart, independent, and strong. She is also conflicted and forced to grow up too fast. Torn between her loyalty to her mother and her wanderlust, her desire to break free from the constraints of an impoverished, abusive life fuels her. Her passion for culture leads her to travel throughout Europe, sometimes hitchhiking with her best friend, sometimes alone. Minouche has a zest for life that is infectious, and her wonder at the beauty that life has to offer is refreshing.
I also like the numerous cultural references interspersed throughout the novel. Much of the story takes place in Paris, but Minouche travels to many different countries in her teens. Fent’s attention to unique landmarks, literature, and art, as well as Minouche’s passionate reactions to them, takes the reader on a cultural and emotional journey. I found myself looking up specific paintings and architecture mentioned that I had never heard of before. I appreciate that this book entertains and expands the reader’s cultural horizons. These references, as well as the references to popular music and movies of the time, also further define the historical aspect of this piece of fiction.
The author’s skillful use of symbolism, especially concerning hair, travel, and astronomy, adds such depth to the story. I love the scene early in the piece when Minouche chops off her long hair, which is something her step-father never let her do. Her sense of freedom and empowerment at that moment is so poignant and pivotal in her maturation. Additionally, her discussions of cosmic forces with Stefen are thought-provoking and highlight her maturation and the deepening of their relationship.
I enthusiastically rate The 35¢ Dowry 4 out of 4 stars. It is a well-developed and impeccably edited novel that focuses on themes of love, perseverance, and following one’s dreams. There is not a lot of action or violence, which might deter some. However, readers who enjoy historical fiction that focuses on a young woman’s strength, passion, and resilience will adore this novel.
The 35¢ DOWRY
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